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Medieval Anchoritisms

Medieval Anchoritisms: Gender, Space and the Solitary Life

Liz Herbert McAvoy
Volume: 6
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81h1q
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  • Book Info
    Medieval Anchoritisms
    Book Description:

    Originating in the deserts of northern Africa in the early years of Christianity, anchoritism, or the enclosed solitary life, gradually metamorphosed into a permanent characteristic of European religiosity; from the twelfth century onwards, and throughout the middle ages, it was embraced with increasing enthusiasm, by devoted laywomen in particular. This book investigates the wider cultural importance of medieval anchoritism within the different religious landscapes and climates of the period. Drawing upon a range of contemporary gender and spatial theories, it focuses on the gender dynamics of this remarkable way of life, and the material spaces which they generated and within which they operated. As such, it unites related - but too often discrete - areas of scholarship, including early Christian anchoritism, anchoritic guidance texts and associated works, fourteenth and fifteenth-century holy women with close anchoritic connections, and a range of other less known works dealing with or connected to the anchoritic life. Dr LIZ HERBERT MCAVOY is Senior Lecturer in Gender in English and Medieval Studies at Swansea University

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-792-9
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-10)

    Writing to her father from the desert at Kureifeh on Wednesday, 15 May 1900, Gertrude Bell attempts to articulate the extraordinary silence she had experienced there: ‘Shall I tell you my chief impression’, she asks him, ‘– the silence. It is like the silence of mountain tops, but more intense, for there you know the sound of wind and far away water and falling ice and stones; there is a sort of echo of sound there, you know it, Father. But here, nothing.’² In this extract, Bell experiences the silence and solitude of the desert in terms of an empty...

  6. Chapter 1 MILES CHRISTI: EARLY ANCHORITIC MASCULINITY AND THE SACRED
    (pp. 11-42)

    Narratives of the desert and its corollary, the wilderness, have long been intrinsic to the Christian belief-system. From the exploits of Old Testament prophets such as Moses and Elijah to the life of solitary privation preferred by John the Baptist in the New Testament, so-called ‘wilderness theology’ unsurprisingly formed a centrepiece within the writings by and about the early Christians – the Church Fathers and Mothers – who had fled to the more remote areas of Palestine and Egypt to avoid persecution under the Romans.² The geographies of wilderness and desert were thus overlayed like a palimpsest to form one of the...

  7. Chapter 2 VIDETE VOCACIONEM VESTRAM: LATE-MEDIEVAL MALE ANCHORITISM AND THE SPECTRAL FEMININE
    (pp. 43-76)

    The ‘practical faith’ of medieval male anchoritism and the compliance of its adherents to an ideal were deeply indebted to the ‘fundamental presuppositions’ which made up the Rule of Saint Benedict, presenting the reader with a male anchoritic paradigm which remained close to its coenobitic and desert roots, in spite of its geographical and temporal separation from those origins. As such, this ‘ideal’ anchorite tended to generate far less anxiety for those responsible for his welfare than did the female anchorite, due in part to his already having been subject to tried and tested regulation as a monk or priest...

  8. Chapter 3 WRITING THE FLESH: FEMALE ANCHORITISM AND THE MASTER NARRATIVE
    (pp. 77-112)

    In an essay examining the relationship between the female author, reading and writing, Hélène Cixous rereads the tradition of Eve’s transgression as the provision of a fundamental lesson for women about the politics of reading. For Cixous, Eden as primal location provides the ‘scene of the meal in which desire and prohibition coexist’.² The ‘meal’ in question is, of course, that of the ‘forbidden’ fruit which, throughout the Middle Ages, provided a primary symbol for humankind’s problematic relationship with its own innate desires and its cultural systems of taboo. Faced with the prohibition of God’s law and her own desire...

  9. Chapter 4 READING WITH THE EYES CLOSED: REVISING THE MASTER NARRATIVE
    (pp. 113-146)

    The reading practices of medieval women in the later Middle Ages have been subject to considerable scrutiny in recent decades. In the context of women’s devotional literature, Anne Clark Bartlett’s reassessment of how a female audience may have responded to the general misogyny inherent within male-authored medieval devotional texts has been particularly influential upon subsequent scholarly understanding.² Bartlett argues that women may well have focused on what she identifies as the more positive discourses often running counter to or contending with the main discursive strands of the narrative - nuptial imagery, for example, Romance discourse or allusions to spiritual or...

  10. Chapter 5 MAPPING THE ANCHORHOLD: ANCHORITES, BORDERLANDS AND LIMINAL SPACES
    (pp. 147-177)

    In her account of mapped views of the world, Irit Rogoff asserts that such views are in fact, ‘meditations on issues of boundaries and definitions and the interactions between the two’.² Drawing on the work of J. Wreford Watson, she demonstrates how geographical narratives regarding the apparent specificity of place help to shape our own concepts of representation and meaning. For Rogoff, the geography of the land is ultimately the geography of spatial construction, which in turn becomes a geography of the mind itself.³ This is a concept which has been explored in the context of medieval literature by Christopher...

  11. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 178-180)

    In this book, I have attempted to unpick and interrogate some of the wider meanings attached to the anchoritic life in the Middle Ages, as well has how those meanings shifted and changed over time and within different epistemological spaces and gendered contexts. As stated in the introduction, its aim was not to be fully comprehensive: indeed, any in-depth study of this type and length must be selective and can only touch upon the wide range of texts written for or about anchorites within the European tradition, many of which yet await scrutiny, particularly from a socio-literary perspective. What I...

  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 181-194)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 195-202)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-203)